RUTH Hardman spends her days walking with wolves. And on days off from her favourite pastime she helps to run a successful firm of accountants.
The 36-year-old, who lives near Reading, has spent more than a decade at Hungerford firm PBA Accountants, working her way up to the top after starting as a trainee.
In her spare time she is also a handler at the UK Wolf Conservation Trust, based near Newbury, which is a not-for-profit organisation that protects wolves and aims to help people get a better understanding of the beautiful creatures.
Born and brought up in Newbury, Ruth attended Falkland and Park House schools before moving on to St Bartholomew’s School sixth form. It was here, while studying for an A-level in business studies, that she first realised what it was she wanted to do as a career.
She moved to the University of Portsmouth and undertook a two-year HND in finance, before getting her first job as a trainee accountant with Ross Brooke Chartered Accountants in Newbury.
“I was there for six months before I decided to go travelling for a while,” she explains. “I was away in America for six months, before coming home and starting a job here [PBA Accountants].”
Over the next few years Ruth worked as a trainee accountant, sitting 11 exams to achieve her ACCA accreditation – the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants.
“I joined as a trainee and think I’ve had every job title since,” she says. “I qualified as a chartered certified accountant in 2007 and I became a director in January 2015.
“It has been a good first year.
“I now do more business management and run the office on a day-to-day basis, but I do have my portfolio of clients who I help with business advice too.”
Ruth is one of the firm’s three directors – along with Clive Adolph and Paul Pointer. There are now 21 staff at PBA, which started life as Freeman Baker Associates, based in St Albans.
The firm opened another branch in Somerset and then a third office in Hungerford, as it was halfway between the other two and it could cover the South of England.
Clive was among the first people to set up Freeman Baker Associates more than 30 years ago and has been at the Hungerford branch since its inception.
When the firm first moved into the town, Clive ran it from his own home, before taking a one-room office on High Street. The business has grown so much it now occupies the whole building.
It became PBA Accountants in 2008 after separating from Freeman Baker Associates and becoming an independent firm. With six qualified accountants and two qualified tax managers among its staff now, PBA offers its clients a wide range of business advice and services.
It is a Platinum-approved employer with the ACCA, which highlights the wealth of training offered to its staff.
“We do a lot of training with our staff,” adds Ruth. “It definitely pays to invest in your employees.
“One of our staff qualified in January and she came to us straight out of school eight years ago, which is great to see.”
Ruth says that she has noticed a recent shift in the number of people entering the profession directly from school.
“Entry level qualifications are GCSE maths and English,” she explains. “It helps if you have three A-levels but it is not essential.
“Most of our staff come straight from A-levels now because you don’t have to go to university to enter the profession and they don’t want to pay the fees.
“You can start working straight from school and all your training is paid for. We have certainly seen a bigger shift to non-university graduates in the past four or five years.
“Starting from the bottom and working your way up gives you the experience, which is very important.”
It is not just a shift in employees that Ruth has seen in recent years though.
“Everything is becoming much more electronic now, with online filing and talk of online tax accountants,” she adds. “Auto-enrolment has changed a lot of things too.
“Our client payroll is increasing and we now have about 350 clients. It’s a big area for us now.
“There is also a lot coming in with the new accountancy standards in the next year or two. This means a lot more training.
“All qualified accountants must undertake 40 hours of training a year, in a variety of areas, including tax, HMRC changes, accounts and law.
“There is also a new dividends tax rate coming in from April and changes to how landlords can claim expenses and tax relief.”
With increasing demands for its services, PBA has just recruited a new member to the team and in the coming months is looking to grow the business even more.
“We still have space in this office to expand,” Ruth adds. “Being in Hungerford, we are in a great location to get out and see clients.”
Ruth is also on the committee of the West Berkshire Business Awards and PBA Accountants sponsors the Small Business Award.